There is an energy crisis in Lebanon. Despite a tangle of wires running throughout the city of Beirut, power cuts have been a fact of everyday life for well over a decade. In some regions, there are up to 11 hours of cuts every single day. The infrastructure of the country suffered heavily throughout Lebanon’s notoriously brutal fifteen year civil war. However, recent clashes have also aimed for sources of electricity; in 2000 and 2006, power stations at Bsalim, Badawi and Jiyeh were shelled by Israeli forces. This damage, exacerbated by a lack of investment, as well as increases in demand, means that supply cannot be met by the state-run Electricite Du Liban. Polluted by generators, forced into darkness, Lebanon is regularly blacked-out.
Rabih Mroué’s Diary of a Leap Year comprises of of 366 collages, taken from newspapers in Lebanon and the Arab World. Each collage features a section of a printed image, or Arabic script, placed on a blank white background. Taken from their original context, the photographs are hard to decipher. One page features rocks, with a pipe or bag running alongside them. Another sees the lone figure of a girl, making her way across rocks on a stream. Or is it her shadow? The text pieces are similarly obtuse. In the manner of Burroughs, disjointed phrases are stitched together:
“The city of Baalbek to end the song of the massacre carried out by the international. To land in terrible Israeli Israel in a certain service.”
Alongside these, there are more obviously political collages, partnering the word pieces: there are soldiers and weapons, stockpiled.
Born in Lebanon in 1967, Mroué works across film, the stage and visual arts. His age means that his youth was spent in the midst of civil war. Despite ending in 1990, the country’s power structures remain unstable, and traditional media is often a mouthpiece for sectarian politics, with many accusing it of blackouts and gaps in reporting.
This book can be considered as the visual equivalent of Lebanon’s energy crisis. Images are there, but not fully seen; cut away from their original source, their meaning is thrown into shadow. Representation of events is fractured, reflecting the competing narratives and ideologies of the country’s politics and media. Indeed, of his work, Mroué has written, “My works deal with issues that have been swept under the table in the current political climate of Lebanon.” This censorship is reflected in the expanses of blank page, through which fragmented, abstracted information emerges. It’s more of a whiteout, than a blackout, then.
Diary of a Leap Year by Rabih Mroué is published by Kaph, March 2017 in English/ Arabic. 720 pages.